It was a very berry weekend and perhaps our last as the nation cycles into the winter season. We started with Coastal Ground Cherries, Physalis angustifolia.
Our timing was perfect. The husks were gold to a tan, dry, papery. Inside the fruit was deep yellow to gold, tangy in taste. Ground cherries ripen from green to gold, getting sweeter and tangier as they go along. But they can often have a bitter after taste either from being under ripe or some species just retain some bitterness. A little aftertaste of bitterness is okay but the best is when there is none. Thus one always tastes a ripe ground cherry then waits a minute or so for any bitterness to appear.
While locally Ground Cherries can fruit nearly all year, they do produce a spring and fall crop. In cooler climes they just have one season ripening in late summer and fall. Here our fall crop tends to be better than our spring one. Spring ground cherries can rot on the plant or get damaged by insects and that is also when I tend to find more bitter ones. But this time of year brings out the best in ground cherries. One can find whole, undamaged, very ripe Ground Cherries in significant numbers. You can make a pie out of them if you can manage to get some home uneaten. Incidentally there is a second local ground cherry that resembles the Coastal Ground Cherry. It’s Physalis walteri, also known as starry-hair ground-cherry and sand cherry. It has star-shaped hairs on the lower edges of the leaf which are visible with a hand lens. Still edible, however. To read more about Ground Cherries go here.
The second “berry” of the day was cocoplums. As we are in a seasonal shift we had to look at several bushes but in time we found enough for everyone to have a taste of the much-underrated fruit. I’m not sure why most wild food writers disparage the cocoplum. I like the pulp’s flavor as well as the seed which tastes like granola to me, or almonds. There are three common varieties, purple, red and white. All are edible and to my palate taste the same. Those who study the various species say the flavor improves with the dark species. As they have a long season and are a common ornamental one can usually collect a lot of cocoplums. To read more about cocoplums click here.
While we are past the season for Simpson Stopper berries one bush did have some very ripe to dry fruit and we got a chance to taste them as well. Leaning towards a sweet orange rind flavor they can be palatable if your timing is right. While they can be eaten out of hand the flavor can be intense so often Simpon Stopper berries are processed into jelly and the like. Like the cocoplums it’s a native used in landscaping, usually as an accent plant but they can also be trained into a long hedge. More about the Simpson Stopper is here.
Our fourth berry of the day had a lot to live up to but couldn’t even if it tried. While elderberries get a lot of copy, they are not great right off the bush. Fresh the best they ever get up to in taste is not too bad. Like Dove Plums they benefit greatly from processing, either drying or being made into syrup, jelly, wine or pies. It is also a medicinal plant. The flowers are edible as well. A multitude of foraging books say you can eat elderberries raw but that is true only if you eat a few, for tasting purposes. Larger amounts of raw elderberries can cause nausea and upset the digestive system.
Strange things can happen in foraging. That’s my experience with Lemon Bacopa. It’s a common plant but not found commonly. I have found it five times. The first time was with Dick Deuerling some twenty years ago. The next time was about five years later on a damp woods road. Then about five years after that I found it on the shore of a lake near where I live. If you’re counting that’s a sighting averaging about once every six or seven years or so. This past week, however, I saw it twice, in Wekiva state park and 200 miles to the south on the Florida Gulf Coast University campus. It’s relative, Bacopa monnieri is very common but very bitter. Lemon Bacopa has a wonderful citrus-like flavor which I think is more like lime than lemon. To read about it go here.
And if you do happen to live in southwest Florida — where I spent the weekend — it’s time to cut off terminal banana blossoms and take the hand inside to ripen. Bananas left on their own outside often spoil before fully ripening. Removing the terminal blossom and cutting the hand off and taking it inside increases the amount of ripe fruit significantly. More so they can take one or two weeks to ripen so you have a steady source of fresh ripe fruit. Bananas also take two years of cold-free weather to produce bananas. Did you know you can cook on banana leaves? To read more about the bananas click here.
Other interesting sightings this past week included a Pond Apple (on the only Pond Apple tree I have seen other than on Sanibel Island.) We also nibble on False Roselle and mushroom-flavored Blue Porterweed blossoms. At the university I think we found the mother load of ripe Creeping Cucumbers. There were certainly hundreds of them including many at the stage to take home for seeds. It’s unfortunate that they do not make good pickles but otherwise are wonderful little cucumbers. And thanks to the good eyes of Benjamin Dion I got to see the Lactarius indigo mushroom. Incidentally if you ever visit the university tour their food forest, a half-acre of intensely crafted and maintained collection of food plants, shrubs and trees. It’s a good example of how a well-designed small plot can feed a lot.
Upcoming classes: Thursday, October 30th, Emerson Point Preserve, 5801 17th Street West, Palmetto, FL 34221. This class is part benefits Eat Local Week of greater Sarasota. The class starts at 9 a.m. and goes to 11 a.m., cost is less than usual, $20. To learn more about other events of that week go here.
Saturday, November 22nd Mead Garden,1500 S. Denning Dr., Winter Park, FL 32789, 9 a.m.
Sunday, November 23rd, Colby-Alderman Park: 1099 Massachusetts Street, Cassadaga. Fla. 32706.
You may wonder why I am taking three weeks off for classes. Two answers, moving one house to another and significant dental surgery including bone transplant. I got hit in the mouth in the fourth grade and it has plagued me via various incarnations for over half a century. This is but one more accommodation of that. If I can speak well by the dates above I will probably add classes on the 29th and 30th as well.
Eat The Weeds On DVD. My foraging videos do not include alligators but they do cover dozens of edible plants in North America. The set has nine DVD. Each DVD has 15 videos for 135 in all. Some of these videos are of better quality than my free ones on the Internet. They are the same videos but many people like to have their own copy. I burn and compile the sets myself so if you have any issues I handle it. There are no middle foragers. And I’m working on adding a tenth DVD. To learn more about the DVDs or to order them click here.
On the Green Deane Forum we post messages and pictures about foraging all year-long. There’s also a UFO page, for Unidentified Flowering Objects so plants can be identified. Recent topics include: Acorns All Colors And Sizes, Turn On The Water, Nanoscopy, Puff on This, Lab To Determine Plant Composition, Orange Red Berry, Atlatl, Odd Trees, Grinder for Tough Roots, European Mountain Ash Edible? Curly Dock, Goldenrod of Some Sort, Saffron Crocus Surprise, Cute Little Orange Thing, Indian Strawberry and Kousa Dogwood, Top Ten Herbs, Paleo Goodies, American Beautyberry, and Two Portulacas. The link to join is on the right hand side of this page.
It is not too early to think about going to the Florida Herbal Conference in late February. I’ve taught there for the last three years and will be there again this year. In fact I plan to spend a lot of time there. You should also know there is an early bird special that expires this Friday, October 31st. It’s a must for all southern herbalists and well as those northern ones who want to escape the cold and study their craft in the dead of winter. It always has interesting speakers and great classes. For more information and to register go here.
As previously mentioned I spent the weekend on the southeast coast of Florida. Sunday included a tour of the food forest at Florida’s Gulf Coast University as well as a foraging class. Here’s the crew after some five hours of rummaging around.
If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here